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One way to gauge which high school classes a student should take, is to choose the most rigorous courses that will help the student reach their academic potential. Every student is different in regards to their academic capabilities so, rather than focusing on exactly what colleges are looking for, consider what the student's academic potential is and plan their high school courses accordingly.  

For students who don't plan on going to college, replace more advanced courses with life-skills classes instead. For example, the student can take Consumer Math instead of trigonometry or pre-calculus or physical science and general science, instead of chemistry or physics. Keep in mind that for many certifications in the trades field, general education courses can still be required, so be sure to plan a solid academic foundation in preparation of any trade. Always check the specific requirements of any particular college that you are interested in attending to make sure you are choosing the correct courses.  

Take at least five core academic classes every semester. The courses listed below should prepare you for success in college and beyond.  


Take English every year. Here are some options for courses:  

  • Composition  

  • Literature  

  • Rhetoric  

  • Creative writing  

  • Speech/communication  

  • Journalism  

  • Debate  


Most colleges want students with three years of high school math. The more competitive colleges prefer four years. Take some combination of the following:  

  • Algebra I  

  • Algebra II  

  • Geometry  

  • Trigonometry  

  • Calculus  


Many colleges want to see that you’ve taken at least two or three years of laboratory science classes. A good combination includes a year of each of the following:  

  • Biology  

  • Chemistry or physics  

  • Earth/space science  

  • Physics  

Schools that are more competitive may require three or four years of lab science courses.  


Here is a suggested high school course plan:  

  • U.S. history (a full year)  

  • U.S. government (half a year)  

  • World history or geography (half a year)  

  • Consider:  

  • Economics  

  • Constitution course  


Many colleges require at least two years of study in the same foreign language.  


Many colleges require or recommend up to two semesters in the arts. Some options include studio art, dance, music, photography and drama.  


You can choose from a variety of options:

  • Music

  • Computer Programming

  • etc.